Not long ago I met a woman who lives at a halfway house. She volunteered her story of addiction, and then told me about her husband. He had a difficult childhood, an abusive mother, and has since been on his own road of addiction, sadness and self pity. His wife has found comfort and joy in knowing God, but her husband isn’t ready to go there. I could see the love and wisdom in her eyes when she said, “A lot of bad things happened to him that weren’t his fault, but he needs to forgive God.”
This seems like a heretical statement. It’s backwards. We don’t forgive God. God forgives us. But don’t call the Theology Police just yet. This woman is absolutely right.
The truth is that we can know a lot of theology without connecting it to our experiences and feelings. Not that theology is bad. I love theology. I read commentaries for fun. But I could have doctrine down pat, and never wrestle with the pain buried deep in my Sunday-Schooled soul. I’ve been there, and so have you.
So what’s this business about forgiving God? Well, as we all know, the world is often a painful place. Bad stuff happens. Our hopes and dreams get turned on their heads. Disappointment, resentment, and anger simmer in our souls. We deserve so much better than what we’ve got. God could change things if he wanted to, so why doesn’t he?
For most of our marriage, my husband and I have lived on the West Coast, four states away from our families in the Midwest (Actually, you could say we’re five states away. Montana is enormous, so it counts as two states. It’s not like traveling in Europe, where you can go country-hopping for the weekend). We’ve missed weddings, funerals, birthdays, family reunions, and holidays. Our kids grew up seeing their grandparents and cousins once or twice a year. We tried to find our way back home, but it just never worked out. It wasn’t the way we wanted to bring up our family, and it’s left a permanent ache in our hearts.
This was definitely not going to be repeated when our kids grew up. We’d all at least live in the same state, visiting often. Can you guess how that’s working out? Besides being a long-distance daughter, I’m now a long-distance mother, mother-in-law and grandma. I’m grateful for living near my daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and soon-to-be-born grandson. But I grieve over the 2000 mile distance between me and my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. I miss this little family. I miss Sunday dinners, birthday parties, baby milestones, and a long list of other things that extended families experience together. I long to know that far away grandson as deeply as I know the one who lives twenty minutes away. I want to carry him around, take him to the park, read him stories, and be his default babysitter. But for now that’s not how things are, and it’s painful. It’s not fair, and I hate it.
Believe me, I realize it’s not unusual for families to be spread out across the country or around the world. My hardship is miniscule when compared with the barrage of illness, abuse, economic privation, war, starvation and persecution that I read about daily. But the pain of it is real, nonetheless. And I need to forgive God for not fixing the situation that causes me pain.
When I talk about forgiving God, I’m really talking about acknowledging God’s right to be in charge of my life and the lives of my loved ones. I’m talking about letting go of my plans and settling in while God works out his mysterious, seemingly non-sensical plan. I’m talking about letting God be God. He’s a lot better at it than I am, even when I can’t figure out what he’s doing or why he’s doing it.
I know all the theology about God’s ways being higher than my ways, and God’s complete knowledge of all the things I’m ignorant of, and how everything he does or allows is for a good purpose. The Sunday School answers are the right answers, but I need all that stuff in my head to make it into my heart.
Forgiving God doesn’t mean I’ll stop hurting. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop praying and hoping that things will change. It does mean I’ll let God meet me in the hurting. I’ll let him whisper peace and trust into my soul. Because that’s really the point of everything – knowing God. I’m grateful for the dear woman who unwittingly exhorted me to forgive God. And I hope her husband will someday forgive him, too.